Tottenham Should Embrace the Europa League


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At best, the Europa League is to a club like Tottenham, a consolation prize for missing out on the Champions League. This year will mark the fifth consecutive appearance by Tottenham in Europe’s secondary international tournament. That’s five consecutive years where the club shot for the Moon, missed and found itself tumbling back down to Earth while they tried desperately to angle for another chance.

At worst, it is a time and energy suck from which the club gains little reward. If Tottenham were to go on and win the whole tournament next May they would be rewarded with less prize money than a team would by simply qualifying for the initial group stage of the Champions League this fall. UEFA has recently sweetened the deal by adding automatic Champions League qualification to the prize pool, but even that has failed to incentive most clubs.

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The problem is that the more traditional route to the Champions League – finishing in the top four in the Premier League, for instance – is often compromised by compulsory, parallel participation in the Europa League. Tottenham has, for the past four seasons, been asked to play Thursdays in the frequently far-off environs of the Europa League and then return to England to play in the domestic league Sunday. That two day turn around isn’t altogether different than the Wednesday-Saturday schedule of roughly half of the Champions League participants, of course, but Tottenham and similar teams are forced to do it without the squad depth often afforded by regular Champions League qualification.

Tottenham has consequently suffered under this regimen. Last season they earned an average of 1.3 points in the Premier League games following a Europa League fixture compared to 1.7 points per game over the course of the whole season. Clearly the Europa League, either physically or mentally, drags Tottenham down in some way.

Depending on your perspective, this season could stand to be even more damaging. Tottenham’s first Europa League match comes just days before the club hosts a particularly deadly looking Crystal Palace side. Two weeks later Tottenham travel to Monaco between games against Manchester City and Swansea.

Perhaps the most unfortunate of these unfortunately timed fixtures comes in November. That month Tottenham will host Anderlecht and travel to FK Qarabağ in Azerbaijan in matches that precede, respectively, Premier League tests against London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

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Pessimists might say that, given Tottenham’s current form, the club might not stand much of a chance in these Premier League games regardless of Europa League obligations. A more even-handed take might be that the club doesn’t have the added stress and exertion of an effectively meaningless competition just days before some of the most vital fixtures on Tottenham’s Premier League calendar.

Barring extremes – declining the tournament invitation, tanking – that might end up damaging Tottenham and England’s precious UEFA coefficient, what can the club do to mitigate the Europa League’s risks?

The most obvious answer is to simply keep the first team at home or on the bench and let the kids run around a bit. That spares Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen’s legs while also giving valuable minutes to the likes of Alex Pritchard, Dele Alli and Kevin Wimmer. Given the evident talent of the club’s considerable youth ranks, it’s even possible that Tottenham pulls one off and gets out of the group stage.

There is a bolder move. Tottenham dives into the Europa League headfirst. Commit the club’s best resources to the competition and qualify for the Champions League that way. It might mean sacrificing some results in the Premier League, but it could actually be easier than edging out the likes of Manchester United or Liverpool for fourth place. Much like Tottenham, Sevilla finished fifth in La Liga last term but managed to make it into the Champions League with their Europa League trophy. Such a season seems well within Tottenham’s ability. It would mean silverware for the first time since 2008’s League Cup trophy. It would mean a reward for all of the hard work Mauricio Pochettino demands of his players. It would mean the glory of the Champions League once again.

If Tottenham misses out on the Champions League yet again, let the club miss out on it in the most glorious and fun way possible. The increasingly crowded field of Premier League contenders can grind out results against one another for a shot at fourth place. Tottenham should see how much of a shortcut they can find in the Europa League.

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